Top 6 Most Powerful Ensemble Learning Techniques Explained & Algorithms That Implement Them

by | Aug 9, 2023 | Data Science, Machine Learning

What is ensemble learning in machine learning?

Ensemble learning is a machine learning technique that combines the predictions of multiple individual models to improve a machine learning algorithm’s overall performance and accuracy. The idea behind ensemble learning is that by combining the strengths of several models, the ensemble can potentially produce better results than any single model.

Ensemble methods are beneficial when a single model might struggle to capture the complexity of a dataset or when different models have complementary strengths.

There are several popular ensemble techniques, including:

  1. Bagging (Bootstrap Aggregating): This technique involves training multiple instances of the same model using different subsets of the training data. These subsets are created through bootstrapping, randomly sampling the training data with replacement. The predictions of the individual models are then combined, often by taking a majority vote for classification tasks or averaging for regression tasks. Random Forest is a famous algorithm that uses bagging with decision trees.
  2. Boosting: Boosting is an iterative technique that focuses on training a sequence of weak learners (models that perform slightly better than random chance) and giving more weight to misclassified instances in each iteration. Each new model is designed to correct the errors of the previous ones, effectively learning from their mistakes. Algorithms like AdaBoost, Gradient Boosting, and XGBoost are examples of boosting algorithms.
  3. Stacking: Stacking involves training multiple diverse models and combining their predictions using a meta-model. The meta-model learns how to weigh and combine the predictions of the base models. This can often lead to better performance than using the individual models separately.
  4. Voting: This is a simple ensemble technique where multiple models are trained independently, and their predictions are combined using a majority vote for classification tasks or averaging for regression tasks. It’s particularly effective when the individual models have complementary strengths.
  5. Blending: Similar to stacking, blending combines the predictions of different models, but unlike stacking, it typically involves dividing the training data into two sets: one for training the base models and another for training the meta-model.
  6. Weighted Average: In some cases, ensemble methods can be as simple as combining the predictions of different models using weighted averages. Each model’s prediction is multiplied by a weight that reflects its perceived reliability or performance.
decision trees are commonly used for ensemble learning

Decision trees are commonly used for ensemble learning.

We will now go into each technique in more detail so that you can get a good understanding of how each technique works, the benefits and common algorithms that implement the technique.

Bagging

Bagging, short for Bootstrap Aggregating, is a popular ensemble learning technique in machine learning. It aims to enhance the accuracy and robustness of models by combining the predictions of multiple base models. Bagging is particularly effective when the base models have high variance or are prone to overfitting.

Here’s a breakdown of the Bagging process:

  1. Bootstrap Sampling: Bagging starts by creating multiple subsets of the training data through random sampling with replacement. Each subset can contain duplicate instances, and some cases might be omitted. These subsets are called bootstrap samples.
  2. Model Training: A separate base model is trained for each bootstrap sample. These base models can be the same type of algorithm or different algorithms altogether. The goal is to create a diverse set of models that capture other aspects of the data.
  3. Predictions and Aggregation: Once the base models are trained, they predict new, unseen data points. For classification tasks, the final prediction is typically determined by a majority vote among the predictions of individual models. For regression tasks, predictions are usually averaged.

Benefits of Bagging:

  • Variance Reduction: By training models on different subsets of the data, Bagging reduces the variance of the ensemble. This leads to improved generalization performance and mitigates overfitting.
  • Robustness: Bagging is robust to outliers and noisy data since individual models are less likely to be influenced by unique data points.
  • Stability: Since each base model is trained on a different subset, the ensemble’s predictions are more stable and less likely to be biased by peculiarities in the training data.
  • Performance Improvement: Bagging can improve predictive accuracy compared to a single model, especially when the base models are sensitive to data fluctuations.

Random Forest is a well-known algorithm that uses the Bagging technique. It builds an ensemble of decision trees, each trained on a bootstrap sample of the data. The final prediction of the Random Forest is determined by aggregating the predictions of all individual decision trees.

Boosting

Boosting is an ensemble learning technique that aims to improve the predictive performance of machine learning models by combining the outputs of multiple weak learners (models that perform slightly better than random guessing), unlike Bagging, which focuses on reducing variance, boosting focuses on reducing bias and variance while creating a robust overall model.

Here’s how the Boosting process works:

  1. Initial Model: Boosting starts with an initial base model, often a simple one. This could be a shallow decision tree, a linear model, or a constant value.
  2. Weighted Data Points: Each instance in the training data is assigned a weight initially. In subsequent iterations, the weights are adjusted to give more importance to the cases misclassified in the previous iterations.
  3. Iterative Model Building: Boosting builds a sequence of models, each of which is trained to correct the errors made by the previous models. In each iteration:
    • a. The model is trained on the weighted training data, giving more emphasis to the instances that were misclassified in earlier iterations.
    • b. The model’s predictions are evaluated, and misclassified instances are assigned higher weights for the next iteration.
    • c. The new model’s predictions are combined with the predictions of the previous models using a weighted average, where the model’s accuracy determines the weights.
  4. Final Prediction: The final prediction of the boosted ensemble is obtained by combining the weighted predictions of all individual models. This often involves a weighted majority vote for classification tasks, and for regression tasks, it’s typically a weighted average.

Benefits of Boosting:

  • Reduced Bias and Variance: Boosting aims to balance bias and variance, resulting in a model with improved predictive accuracy.
  • Improved Generalization: Boosting iteratively focuses on the instances challenging for the previous models, leading to better generalization to unseen data.
  • Handles Complex Relationships: Boosting can capture complex relationships in the data by combining the strengths of multiple models.
  • Automatic Feature Selection: Boosting gives more weight to features essential for the current iteration’s mistakes, effectively performing feature selection.

Common boosting algorithms include:

  • AdaBoost (Adaptive Boosting): One of the first boosting algorithms. It assigns weights to instances and combines the weak learners’ predictions through weighted majority voting.
  • Gradient Boosting Machines (GBM): Builds an ensemble of models by iteratively fitting new models to the negative gradient of the loss function.
  • XGBoost (Extreme Gradient Boosting): An optimized version of GBM that uses regularization, pruning, and efficient tree construction to improve performance.
  • LightGBM: A gradient-boosting framework that uses histogram-based techniques for faster training on large datasets.
  • CatBoost: A gradient boosting algorithm that handles categorical features efficiently and includes built-in methods to prevent overfitting.

Stacking

Stacking, also known as stacked generalization, is an ensemble learning technique that combines the predictions of multiple base models by training a higher-level model, often called a meta-model, on the outputs of the base models. Stacking aims to leverage the strengths of different models and improve overall predictive performance.

Here’s how the Stacking process works:

  1. Base Model Training: Stacking starts by training multiple diverse base models on the same training dataset. These base models can be different algorithms or variations of the same algorithm with different hyperparameters.
  2. Predictions from Base Models: Once the base models are trained, they are used to predict the training data and new, unseen data points. These predictions serve as the features (inputs) for the meta-model.
  3. Meta-Model Training: A meta-model is then trained on the predictions of the base models. The meta-model aims to learn how to optimally combine the base models’ predictions to make a final prediction. The meta-model can be any machine learning algorithm, such as a linear regression, a random forest, or a neural network.
  4. Final Prediction: When new data is presented for prediction, the base models generate individual predictions, which are then used as input features for the trained meta-model. The meta-model combines these predictions to generate the final ensemble prediction.

Benefits of Stacking:

  • Model Combination: Stacking aims to capture the strengths of different base models, potentially leading to improved predictive accuracy by mitigating the weaknesses of individual models.
  • Adaptability: Stacking is highly adaptable and can accommodate a variety of base models, allowing you to leverage the best of different algorithms.
  • Hierarchical Learning: By introducing a meta-model, stacking creates a hierarchical learning structure that can capture more complex relationships in the data.
  • Flexibility: Stacking allows you to experiment with combinations of base models and meta-models, making it a versatile ensemble technique.

Challenges and Considerations:

  • Complexity: Stacking can introduce additional complexity to the modelling process, requiring careful hyperparameter tuning and potentially more computational resources.
  • Overfitting: If not done carefully, stacking can lead to overfitting, especially if the meta-model is highly complex and the training dataset is limited.
  • Data Leakage: If base models are evaluated on the same data used for training the meta-model, it can lead to data leakage and overly optimistic performance estimates.

Stacking is an advanced ensemble learning technique that involves training multiple base models and using their predictions as inputs for a meta-model. It aims to improve predictive accuracy by combining the strengths of different models while considering the potential challenges of complexity and overfitting.

Voting

Voting, also known as majority voting or ensemble voting, is a simple yet effective ensemble learning technique that combines multiple individual models’ predictions to make a final prediction. Voting can be applied to both classification and regression tasks, and it’s advantageous when you have various models that perform reasonably well on their own.

Here’s how the Voting process works:

  1. Base Model Training: You start by training multiple diverse base models using the same training dataset. These base models can be different algorithms or variations of the same algorithm with different settings.
  2. Predictions from Base Models: Once the base models are trained, they predict new, unseen data points.
  3. Voting Mechanism: In classification tasks, the final ensemble prediction is determined by selecting the class that receives the most votes from the base models’ predictions. This is often referred to as “hard voting.” For example, if you have three base models and two of them predict Class A while the third predicts Class B, the final prediction will be Class A.

In regression tasks, the final prediction is typically obtained by averaging the predictions of the base models. This is also known as “soft voting.”

Benefits of Voting:

  • Simplicity: Voting is easy to implement and understand. It’s a great starting point for ensemble learning, especially when you have a collection of models with diverse strengths.
  • Improved Robustness: Voting can improve predictive accuracy and robustness by aggregating the decisions of multiple models, which might help compensate for individual models’ weaknesses.
  • Risk of Overfitting Reduction: If the individual models have different sources of error, combining them through voting can mitigate the risk of overfitting.
  • Ensemble Diversity: Even when the individual models are similar, voting can still provide a form of ensemble diversity, especially if they make different errors in different instances.

Considerations:

  • Model Diversity: For voting to be effective, the base models should be diverse, meaning they should have different strengths and weaknesses. If the models are too similar, voting might not yield significant benefits.
  • Decision Boundaries: The success of voting depends on the independence of the individual models’ decision boundaries. If models make correlated errors, voting might not be as effective.
  • Equal Weights: By default, each model’s prediction carries the same weight. In some cases, giving more weight to more accurate models or models that perform well in specific instances can lead to better results.
  • Odd Number of Models: In binary classification tasks, it’s a good practice to use an odd number of models to avoid ties when determining the majority class.

Voting is a versatile technique that is easy to implement and can improve predictive performance. However, for more complex problems or when dealing with models with different behaviours, other ensemble techniques like stacking or boosting might offer more substantial gains.

Blending

Blending is an ensemble learning technique similar to stacking, where the predictions of multiple base models are combined to create a final prediction. Blending, however, has a slightly different approach to stacking and is often used to address some of the challenges associated with stacking.

Here’s how the Blending process works:

  1. Data Splitting: The original training data is split into two parts: the first part (often called the “train” set) is used to train the base models, and the second part (often called the “holdout” set or “validation” set) is used to create predictions from these base models.
  2. Base Model Training: You train multiple diverse base models on the “train” set. These models can be different algorithms or variations of the same algorithm with different settings.
  3. Predictions from Base Models: Once the base models are trained, they predict the “holdout” set. These predictions serve as the features (inputs) for the meta-model.
  4. Meta-Model Training: A meta-model is trained on the predictions of the base models from the “holdout” set. The goal is to create a model that learns how to combine the base models’ predictions effectively.
  5. Final Prediction: When new data is presented for prediction, the base models generate individual predictions, which are then used as input features for the trained meta-model. The meta-model combines these predictions to generate the final ensemble prediction.

Benefits of Blending:

  • Avoiding Overfitting: Using a separate “holdout” set for creating predictions from base models, blending can help prevent overfitting in the stacking process, where the same data used for training base models is also used for making predictions.
  • Reducing Complexity: Blending is conceptually more straightforward than stacking, as it involves two distinct steps: training base models and training a meta-model.
  • Predictive Power: Like stacking, blending aims to leverage the strengths of different base models, leading to improved predictive accuracy.

Considerations:

  • Holdout Set Size: The “holdout” set’s size can impact the blending process’s quality. It should be large enough to provide reliable predictions from the base models but not too large to hinder the training of the meta-model.
  • Blend Model Selection: The choice of the meta-model is essential. You can use various algorithms such as linear regression, random forest, or neural networks. The choice should be based on the problem and the characteristics of the base models.
  • Data Splitting Strategy: How you split the data into the “train” and “holdout” sets can impact the blending performance. Techniques like k-fold cross-validation can be used to mitigate potential biases.

Blending is an ensemble learning technique combining predictions from multiple base models using a separate “holdout” set. It aims to provide a more straightforward, less prone-to-overfitting alternative to stacking while leveraging the benefits of combining diverse models.

After reading this, you hopefully understand which ensemble method would work best with your problem. If not, then here is our list of favourite algorithms to us.

Top 7 ensemble algorithms to utilise

There are several popular algorithms for ensemble learning, each with its strengths and characteristics. Here are some of the top algorithms for ensemble learning:

  1. Random Forest: Random Forest is a robust ensemble algorithm that combines multiple decision trees. Each tree is trained on a bootstrapped subset of the training data, and at each split, a random subset of features is considered. The final prediction is obtained by aggregating the predictions of all the individual trees, typically using majority voting for classification and averaging for regression. Random Forest is known for its ability to handle high-dimensional data, manage categorical features, and mitigate overfitting.
  2. AdaBoost (Adaptive Boosting): AdaBoost is an iterative boosting algorithm that gives more weight to misclassified instances in each iteration. It starts with a weak learner and sequentially builds a robust model by focusing on the mistakes made by the previous models. Each model is assigned a weight, and the final prediction is obtained by combining the weighted predictions of the individual models.
  3. Gradient Boosting Machines (GBM): GBM is another boosting algorithm that sequentially constructs an ensemble of weak learners. Unlike AdaBoost, GBM minimizes a loss function by fitting subsequent models to the previous models’ residuals (the differences between the actual values and the predictions). This approach leads to a more robust model with each iteration.
  4. XGBoost (Extreme Gradient Boosting): XGBoost is an enhanced version of gradient boosting that introduces regularization terms to the loss function, which helps prevent overfitting. It also employs tree pruning and hardware optimization techniques to improve efficiency and predictive accuracy. XGBoost is widely used in machine learning competitions and real-world applications.
  5. LightGBM: LightGBM is a gradient boosting framework that improves efficiency and scalability. It uses a histogram-based approach to bin the features, which reduces memory usage and speeds up training. LightGBM is particularly useful when working with large datasets and high-dimensional feature spaces.
  6. CatBoost: CatBoost is another gradient boosting algorithm designed to handle categorical features without requiring extensive preprocessing. It automatically encodes categorical features and is robust against overfitting. CatBoost also supports GPU acceleration and offers strong performance out of the box.
  7. Stacking and Blending: While not specific algorithms, stacking and blending are ensemble techniques that combine the predictions of multiple diverse models through a meta-model. These techniques allow you to leverage the strengths of different algorithms to improve overall performance.

The choice of ensemble algorithm depends on various factors, such as the problem’s nature, the data’s characteristics, the available computational resources, and the trade-off between interpretability and predictive accuracy. It’s often a good practice to experiment with different ensemble methods to find the one that best suits your specific scenario.

What are some examples of ensemble learning techniques beyond Bagging, boosting, stacking, voting, blending, and weighted average?

Several other ensemble techniques and variations go beyond the well-known approaches. Here are a few additional ensemble techniques:

  1. Bayesian Model Averaging (BMA): BMA combines the predictions of multiple models using Bayesian principles. It considers the uncertainty associated with each model’s prediction and assigns weights based on the models’ performance and the quality of their predictions.
  2. Bayesian Model Combination (BMC): BMC is a more flexible version of BMA, where the model parameters can be considered random variables. It involves sampling from the posterior distribution of the model parameters and using these samples to make predictions.
  3. Mixture of Experts: This technique involves dividing the input space into regions and training separate expert models in each area. These experts’ predictions are combined using a gating network that assigns weights based on the input’s characteristics.
  4. Bucket of Models (BoM): BoM involves training a diverse set of models, each capturing different aspects of the data. When making predictions, a subset of these models is selected based on the input data’s properties, and their predictions are combined.
  5. Random Subspace Method: Similar to Bagging, the Random Subspace Method trains multiple models on random subsets of the features. This can help in reducing feature variance and improving generalization.
  6. Random Multimodel Deep Learning (RMDL): RMDL combines multiple deep learning models with different architectures to create an ensemble. Each model captures other features, enhancing the ensemble’s overall performance.
  7. Cascading: Cascading involves using the output of one model as input for another model. This sequential approach can be used to refine predictions or make complex decisions.
  8. Error-Correcting Output Codes (ECOC): ECOC is used for multiclass classification. It involves encoding the classes into binary codes and training multiple binary classifiers. The final prediction is obtained by combining the binary classifier outputs.
  9. Subagging: Subagging is a variation of Bagging where each base model is trained on a different subset of features. This approach can help reduce the impact of irrelevant features.
  10. Greedy Function Approximation (GFA): GFA trains a set of models, each specialized for a subset of the training data. The final prediction is a weighted combination of these models’ outputs.

These are just a few examples of the many ensemble techniques. The effectiveness of these methods depends on the problem at hand, the characteristics of the data, and the trade-offs between complexity and performance. Experimentation and careful consideration are essential to determine the most suitable ensemble technique for a specific task.

Conclusion & Summary of ensemble learning

Ensemble learning is a powerful machine learning approach that combines multiple models’ predictions to create a more accurate and robust final prediction. This approach leverages different models’ strengths, addresses weaknesses, and often leads to improved generalization performance on new and unseen data. Throughout this conversation, we’ve covered several fundamental ensemble techniques:

  • Bagging (Bootstrap Aggregating): Bagging involves training multiple instances of the same base model on different subsets of the training data created through bootstrapping. The final prediction is obtained by aggregating the predictions of these individual models. Random Forest is a popular algorithm based on Bagging.
  • Boosting: Boosting is an iterative technique that builds a sequence of models, each correcting the errors of the previous ones. AdaBoost, Gradient Boosting Machines (GBM), XGBoost, and LightGBM are examples of boosting algorithms that create strong models by focusing on challenging instances.
  • Stacking combines predictions from diverse base models by training a meta-model on their outputs. This hierarchical approach aims to capture complex relationships and improve overall predictive accuracy.
  • Voting: Voting combines predictions from different models through majority voting or averaging. It’s a straightforward technique that can enhance robustness and performance by aggregating decisions from multiple models.
  • Blending: Blending is similar to stacking but involves splitting the training data into two sets: one for training base models and another for training the meta-model. This helps prevent overfitting and provides a simpler alternative to stacking.

Each ensemble technique has its advantages, challenges, and considerations. The choice of approach depends on factors such as the nature of the problem, the diversity of base models, available computational resources, and the trade-off between complexity and performance.

Ensemble learning has proven effective in various real-world applications and machine learning competitions, and it continues to be a crucial tool for improving model performance and tackling challenging tasks. However, it’s important to remember that ensemble methods can lead to significant improvements. However, they also require thoughtful experimentation, parameter tuning, and an understanding the underlying algorithms to achieve optimal results.

About the Author

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten

Neri Van Otten is the founder of Spot Intelligence, a machine learning engineer with over 12 years of experience specialising in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and deep learning innovation. Dedicated to making your projects succeed.

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