Incremental learning, in which new knowledge is acquired gradually through trial and error, can be distinguished from one-shot learning, in which the brain learns rapidly from only a single pairing of a stimulus and a consequence. Very little is known about how the brain transitions between these two fundamentally different forms of learning. Here we test a computational hypothesis that uncertainty about the causal relationship between a stimulus and an outcome induces rapid changes in the rate of learning, which in turn mediates the transition between incremental and one-shot learning. By using a novel behavioral task in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from human volunteers, we found evidence implicating the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in this process. The hippocampus was selectively “switched” on when one-shot learning was predicted to occur, while the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was found to encode uncertainty about the causal association, exhibiting increased coupling with the hippocampus for high-learning rates, suggesting this region may act as a “switch,” turning on and off one-shot learning as required.