Transfer of learning is at the heart of social work training yet there has been very little exploration of what transfer of learning is and how it might be facilitated. From the perspective of a literature review covering the fields of education, psychology, social work and nursing studies we examine the concept and process of transfer of learning. From a basic definition of ‘prior learning affecting new learning or performance’, we look at transfer of learning from the point of view of the learner, discussing the concept of the active learner striving to make connections between previous knowledge and new input. We look at cognitive models of learning which illuminate the transfer task—schema theory—the idea that knowledge is retained in the mind in terms of representations which are continually reconstructed according to new experience; and information processing theory which describes the active processes of generalisation and abstraction through which such representations are reconstructed. We look at the importance of mindfulness, reflection and metacognitive awareness in these processes. In conclusion we indicate ways in which transfer of learning may be facilitated in social work education.