The contribution of glutamate to synaptic transmission, plasticity and development is well established; current evidence is based on diverse approaches to decipher function and malfunction of this principal transmitter. With respect to learning and memory, we are now able to identify more specifically the role played by the three main glutamate receptor classes in learning and memory: centre stage is clearly the NMDA receptor, with overwhelming evidence proving its involvement in the actual learning process (encoding), throughout the animal kingdom. This is discussed with respect to many different types of learning. Evidence for the contribution of the AMPA receptors (AMPARs) is less clear-cut due to the general problem of specificity: block of AMPARs will shutdown neuronal communication, and this will affect various components essential for learning. Therefore, the role of AMPARs cannot be established in isolation. Problems of interpretation are outlined and a specific involvement of AMPARs in the regulation of neuronal excitation related to learning is proposed. Metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) may contribute very little to the actual acquisition of new information. However, memory formation appears to require mGluRs, through the modulation of consolidation and/or recall. Overall, mGluR functions seem variable and dependent on brain structure and learning task.