Provable Benefits of Representational Transfer in Reinforcement Learning

Alekh Agarwal, Yuda Song, Wen Sun, Kaiwen Wang, Mengdi Wang, Xuezhou Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We study the problem of representational transfer in RL, where an agent first pretrains in a number of source tasks to discover a shared representation, which is subsequently used to learn a good policy in a target task. We propose a new notion of task relatedness between source and target tasks, and develop a novel approach for representational transfer under this assumption. Concretely, we show that given a generative access to source tasks, we can discover a representation, using which subsequent linear RL techniques quickly converge to a near-optimal policy in the target task. The sample complexity is close to knowing the ground truth features in the target task, and comparable to prior representation learning results in the source tasks. We complement our positive results with lower bounds without generative access, and validate our findings with empirical evaluation on rich observation MDPs that require deep exploration. In our experiments, we observe speed up in learning in the target by pre-training, and also validate the need for generative access in source tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2114-2187
Number of pages74
JournalProceedings of Machine Learning Research
StatePublished - 2023
Event36th Annual Conference on Learning Theory, COLT 2023 - Bangalore, India
Duration: Jul 12 2023Jul 15 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Statistics and Probability


  • Low-Rank MDPs
  • Reinforcement Learning Theory
  • Transfer Learning


Dive into the research topics of 'Provable Benefits of Representational Transfer in Reinforcement Learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this