In this thesis, we explore the use of machine learning techniques for information retrieval. More specifically, we focus on ad-hoc retrieval, which is concerned with searching large corpora to identify the documents relevant to user queries. This identification is performed through a ranking task. Given a user query, an ad-hoc retrieval system ranks the corpus documents, so that the documents relevant to the query ideally appear above the others. In a machine learning framework, we are interested in proposing learning algorithms that can benefit from limited training data in order to identify a ranker likely to achieve high retrieval performance over unseen documents and queries. This problem presents novel challenges compared to traditional learning tasks, such as regression or classification. First, our task is a ranking problem, which means that the loss for a given query cannot be measured as a sum of an individual loss suffered for each corpus document. Second, most retrieval queries present a highly unbalanced setup, with a set of relevant documents accounting only for a very small fraction of the corpus. Third, ad-hoc retrieval corresponds to a kind of "double" generalization problem, since the learned model should not only generalize to new documents but also to new queries. Finally, our task also presents challenging efficiency constraints, since ad-hoc retrieval is typically applied to large corpora. The main objective of this thesis is to investigate the discriminative learning of ad-hoc retrieval models. For that purpose, we propose different models based on kernel machines or neural networks adapted to different retrieval contexts. The proposed approaches rely on different online learning algorithms that allow efficient learning over large corpora. The first part of the thesis focuses on text retrieval. In this case, we adopt a classical approach to the retrieval ranking problem, and order the text documents according to their estimated similarity to the text query. The assessment of semantic similarity between text items plays a key role in that setup and we propose a learning approach to identify an effective measure of text similarity. This identification is not performed relying on a set of queries with their corresponding relevant document sets, since such data are especially expensive to label and hence rare. Instead, we propose to rely on hyperlink data, since hyperlinks convey semantic proximity information that is relevant to similarity learning. This setup is hence a transfer learning setup, where we benefit from the proximity information encoded by hyperlinks to improve the performance over the ad-hoc retrieval task. We then investigate another retrieval problem, i.e. the retrieval of images from text queries. Our approach introduces a learning procedure optimizing a criterion related to the ranking performance. This criterion adapts our previous learning objective for learning textual similarity to the image retrieval problem. This yields an image ranking model that addresses the retrieval problem directly. This approach contrasts with previous research that relies on an intermediate image annotation task. Moreover, our learning procedure builds upon recent work on the online learning of kernel-based classifiers. This yields an efficient, scalable algorithm, which can benefit from recent kernels developed for image comparison. In the last part of the thesis, we show that the objective function used in the previous retrieval problems can be applied to the task of keyword spotting, i.e. the detection of given keywords in speech utterances. For that purpose, we formalize this problem as a ranking task: given a keyword, the keyword spotter should order the utterances so that the utterances containing the keyword appear above the others. Interestingly, this formulation yields an objective directly maximizing the area under the receiver operating curve, the most common keyword spotter evaluation measure. This objective is then used to train a model adapted to this intrinsically sequential problem. This model is then learned with a procedure derived from the algorithm previously introduced for the image retrieval task. To conclude, this thesis introduces machine learning approaches for ad-hoc retrieval. We propose learning models for various multi-modal retrieval setups, i.e. the retrieval of text documents from text queries, the retrieval of images from text queries and the retrieval of speech recordings from written keywords. Our approaches rely on discriminative learning and enjoy efficient training procedures, which yields effective and scalable models. In all cases, links with prior approaches were investigated and experimental comparisons were conducted.