Skip to yearly menu bar Skip to main content


Curriculum learning as a tool to uncover learning principles in the brain

Daniel R Kepple · Rainer Engelken · Kanaka Rajan

Keywords: [ curriculum learning ] [ neuroscience ]


We present a novel approach to use curricula to identify principles by which a system learns. Previous work in curriculum learning has focused on how curricula can be designed to improve learning of a model on particular tasks. We consider the inverse problem: what can a curriculum tell us about how a learning system acquired a task? Using recurrent neural networks (RNNs) and models of common experimental neuroscience tasks, we demonstrate that curricula can be used to differentiate learning principles using target-based and a representation-based loss functions as use cases. In particular, we compare the performance of RNNs using target-based learning rules versus those using representational learning rules on three different curricula in the context of two tasks. We show that the learned state-space trajectories of RNNs trained by these two learning rules under all curricula tested are indistinguishable. However, by comparing learning times during different curricula, we can disambiguate the learning rules and challenge traditional approaches of interrogating learning systems. Although all animals in neuroscience lab settings are trained by curriculum-based procedures called shaping, almost no behavioral or neural data are collected or published on the relative successes or training times under different curricula. Our results motivate the systematic collection and curation of data during shaping by demonstrating curriculum learning in RNNs as a tool to probe and differentiate learning principles used by biological systems, over conventional statistical analyses of learned state spaces.

Chat is not available.