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For example, which one fits in this context better?

Working as a teacher, she has hands-on experience with suspected drug user students. Working as a teacher, she has first hand experience with suspected drug user students.

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"Hands on" means there is/was a physical interaction. You might have hands-on experience baking cookies, for example.

First hand means "directly." For example, a person who directly worked with drug using students as opposed to someone who read a report the first person wrote about their experience. The person who read the report would be said to have "second hand" knowledge.

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  • But wouldn’t a person with first hand experience likely have hands-on experience as well?
    – J.R.
    Jan 6, 2019 at 0:41
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    @JR Perhaps not - you can experience something firsthand without direct interaction, for example at a sporting event.
    – corsiKa
    Jan 6, 2019 at 6:17
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    And for the specific example the OP gave, I would suggest 'first hand' over 'hands-on' because they didn't specify a specific action. "Working as a teacher, she has hands-on experience teaching suspected drug user students." would be better than "Working as a teacher, she has hands-on experience with suspected drug user students." Jan 6, 2019 at 9:02
  • Thanks for the answer. I have also seen hands-on used in a not physical way too, are these exceptional? Jan 7, 2019 at 10:58
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    @user373 In your linked example, the person is saying they have hands-on experience with "a technology" which is vague but still concrete and would allow someone to say "hands-on." Maybe it's an electronic device (very much "hands-on") or even just a particular piece of software (not literally "hands-on" but something you'd interact with via computer hardware). And, of course, people do misuse words/phrases, too ;-)
    – Rykara
    Jan 7, 2019 at 17:31

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