Navigating the Pitfalls of Active Learning Evaluation: A Systematic Framework for Meaningful Performance Assessment

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Carsten Lüth, Till Bungert, Lukas Klein, Paul Jaeger


Active Learning (AL) aims to reduce the labeling burden by interactively selecting the most informative samples from a pool of unlabeled data. While there has been extensive research on improving AL query methods in recent years, some studies have questioned the effectiveness of AL compared to emerging paradigms such as semi-supervised (Semi-SL) and self-supervised learning (Self-SL), or a simple optimization of classifier configurations. Thus, today’s AL literature presents an inconsistent and contradictory landscape, leaving practitioners uncertain about whether and how to use AL in their tasks. In this work, we make the case that this inconsistency arises from a lack of systematic and realistic evaluation of AL methods. Specifically, we identify five key pitfalls in the current literature that reflect the delicate considerations required for AL evaluation. Further, we present an evaluation framework that overcomes these pitfalls and thus enables meaningful statements about the performance of AL methods. To demonstrate the relevance of our protocol, we present a large-scale empirical study and benchmark for image classification spanning various data sets, query methods, AL settings, and training paradigms. Our findings clarify the inconsistent picture in the literature and enable us to give hands-on recommendations for practitioners. The benchmark is hosted at