This research describes a comprehensive examination of the cognitive, motivational, and emotional processes underlying active learning approaches, their effects on learning and transfer, and the core training design elements (exploration, training frame, emotion-control) and individual differences (cognitive ability, trait goal orientation, trait anxiety) that shape these processes. Participants (N = 350) were trained to operate a complex computer-based simulation. Exploratory learning and error-encouragement framing had a positive effect on adaptive transfer performance and interacted with cognitive ability and dispositional goal orientation to influence trainees’ metacognition and state goal orientation. Trainees who received the emotion-control strategy had lower levels of state anxiety. Implications for developing an integrated theory of active learning, learner-centered design, and research extensions are discussed.