Automated Curriculum Learning for Neural Networks

3 minute read



  • Maximize learning efficiency by following a curriculum
  • Measure of the amount that the network learns from each data sample used as reward
  • Nonstationary multi-armed bandit algorithm
  • Consider a variety of signals based on rate of increase in prediction accuracy and network complexity
  • Experimental results with LSTMs on three curricula
  • Paper link
  • Based on the idea that a curriculum of tasks of increasing difficulty can accelerate learning
  • Curriculum learning is highly sensitive to the exact progression through tasks (e.g. when to switch to next task, return to old tasks, what is the measure of difficulty etc.)

Background and Methods

  • Treat picking next task as stochastic policy, optimized for maximizing learning progress
  • Progress signal is evaluated for each training example
  • Nonstationary multi-armed bandit
  • task is a distribution D over batches from , where and are the set of inputs and outputs, respectively
  • curriculum is an esemble of task
  • syllabus is a time-varying sequence of distributions over tasks

  • View curriculum containing N tasks as an N-armed bandit (Exp3 algorithm Auer et al. 2002)

  • Adaptively rescale rewards to [-1,1] based on highest and lowest quantiles using reservoir sampling

  • Learning progress signals
    • Policy should maximize rate at which model minimizes the loss, should be reflected in reward
  • Loss-driven progress
    • Prediction gain (PG) - change in loss for a sample, before and after training on it
    • Gradient prediction gain (GPG) - first-order approximation to prediction gain. Avoids addition forward pass of PG
    • Self prediction gain (SPG) - change in loss for a new sample from the same task
    • Target prediction gain (TPG) - change in loss for a new sample from the target task
    • Mean prediction gain (MPG) - change in loss for a new sample from all tasks
  • Complexity progress signals
    • Based on Minimum Description Length principle - tradeoff between model complexity and data compression
    • Variational complexity gain (VCG) - change in model complexity induced by sample
    • Gradient variational complexity gain (GVCG) - first order approximation to VCG
    • L2 gain (L2G) - change in l2 norm of model parameters
  • Bias-variance tradeoff for different progress signals.


  • Synthetic N-gram language modelling
    • character-level n-gram model on Bible data
    • n from 0 to 10
    • For each model, generate dataset of 1M characters, divided into 150 characters disjoint sequences.
    • LSTM trained to predict last 100 characters from first 50
    • Intuitively, higher n produces more structure and should have higher learning progress
    • Complexity progress signals quickly result in a strong focus on the 10-gram task
    • Except VCG
    • Loss based signals trend towards higher n, but are slower
    • Less so in PG, GPG
  • Repeat Copy
    • Network is trained to repeat a random sequence a given number of times
    • Difficulty based on length of sequence and number of repeats, both vary from 1 to 13 for this experiment (169 tasks in total)
    • ML training
    • PG, SPG, TPG slightly faster than uniform
    • L2G, GL2G, GPG slower
    • VI training
    • GVCG faster than uniform
    • VCG slower
    • However, training on target task failed to learn, indicating need for curriculum
    • One example showed GVCG syllabus first focus on short sequences with high repeats, then long sequences with low repeats.
    • Loss is reduced in many tasks that the policy does not focus on
  • bAbI
    • 20 synthetic question-answering problems
    • Created larger dataset of 1M sotires for each of the 20 tasks
    • PG, SPG better than uniform, others worse
    • VI training worse than uniform


  • Best learning progress signal depends on the task
  • Some may perform worse than uniform policy
  • PG for ML training and GVCG for VI training generally most consistent
  • Both only rely on current sample
  • Curriculum composed of a small number of very similar tasks