Ensemble Learning in Machine Learning: Stacking, Bagging and Boosting

Mbali Kalirane 24 May, 2024 • 13 min read

Introduction

Machine learning is great! But there’s one thing that makes it even better: ensemble learning. Ensemble learning in machine learning helps enhance the performance of machine learning models. The concept behind it is simple. Multiple machine learning models are combined to obtain a more accurate model. Stacking, bagging, and boosting are the three most popular ensemble learning techniques. Each of these techniques offers a unique approach to improving predictive accuracy. Each technique is used for a different purpose, with the use of each depending on varying factors. Although each technique differs, many of us struggle to distinguish between them. Knowing when or why we should use each technique is difficult.

ensemble learning in machine learning | Stacking, Bagging and Boosting

In this tutorial, I’ll explain the difference between bagging, boosting, and stacking. I’ll explain their purposes and processes, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. By the end of this article, you will understand Ensemble learning in Machine Learning, how each technique works, and which technique to use and when.

By understanding the differences, you can choose the best method for improving your model’s accuracy.

This article was published as a part of the Data Science Blogathon.

What is Ensemble Learning in Machine Learning?

Ensemble learning in machine learning combines multiple individual models to create a stronger, more accurate predictive model. By leveraging the diverse strengths of different models, ensemble learning aims to mitigate errors, enhance performance, and increase the overall robustness of predictions, leading to improved results across various tasks in machine learning and data analysis.

What is Bagging?

Bagging (Bootstrap Aggregating) is an ensemble learning technique designed to improve the accuracy and stability of machine learning algorithms. It involves the following steps:

  1. Data Sampling: Creating multiple subsets of the training dataset using bootstrap sampling (random sampling with replacement).
  2. Model Training: raining a separate model on each subset of the data.
  3. Aggregation: Combining the predictions from all individual models (averaged for regression or majority voting for classification) to produce the final output.

Key Benefits:

  • Reduces Variance: By averaging multiple predictions, bagging reduces the variance of the model and helps prevent overfitting.
  • Improves Accuracy: Combining multiple models usually leads to better performance than individual models.

Example of Bagging Algorithms:

Also Read: Beginner’s Guide to Ensemble Learning in Python

What is Boosting?

Boosting is another ensemble learning technique that focuses on creating a strong model by combining several weak models. It involves the following steps:

  1. Sequential Training: Training models sequentially, each one trying to correct the errors made by the previous models.
  2. Weight Adjustment: Each instance in the training set is weighted. Initially, all instances have equal weights. After each model is trained, the weights of misclassified instances are increased so that the next model focuses more on difficult cases.
  3. Model Combination: Combining the predictions from all models to produce the final output, typically by weighted voting or weighted averaging.

Key Benefits:

  • Reduces Bias: By focusing on hard-to-classify instances, boosting reduces bias and improves the overall model accuracy.
  • Produces Strong Predictors: Combining weak learners leads to a strong predictive model.

Example of Boosting Algorithms:

Similarities between Bagging and Boosting

Bagging (Bootstrap Aggregating) and Boosting are both ensemble learning techniques designed to improve the performance of machine learning models by combining the predictions of multiple base models.

Both bagging and boosting involve training multiple models on different subsets of the training data and then combining their predictions to make a final prediction. These techniques aim to reduce the variance of the model and improve its overall accuracy and stability.

Additionally, using bagging and boosting with various base models, such as decision trees, to create a diverse set of models that capture different aspects of the data.

Differences between Bagging and Boosting

While bagging and boosting share some similarities, their approach and methodology differ.

Bagging trains each base model independently and in parallel, using bootstrap sampling to create multiple subsets of the training data. The final prediction is then made by averaging the predictions of all base models. Bagging focuses on reducing variance and overfitting by creating diverse models.

In contrast, boosting trains models sequentially, with each subsequent model focusing on correcting the errors made by the previous ones. Boosting adjusts the weights of training instances to prioritize difficult-to-classify instances, thus reducing bias and improving predictive accuracy. The final prediction is made by combining the predictions of all models, typically using a weighted voting or averaging approach.

Additionally, while bagging is relatively simple and easy to parallelize, boosting is more complex due to its sequential nature and may be more prone to overfitting if not properly controlled.

What is Stacking?

Stacking (Stacked Generalization) is an ensemble learning technique that aims to combine multiple models to improve predictive performance. It involves the following steps:

  1. Base Models: Training multiple models (level-0 models) on the same dataset.
  2. Meta-Model: Training a new model (level-1 or meta-model) to combine the predictions of the base models. Using the predictions of the base models as input features for the meta-model.

Key Benefits:

  • Leverages Model Diversity: By combining different types of models, stacking can capture a wide range of patterns in the data.
  • Improves Performance: The meta-model learns how to best combine the predictions from the base models, often leading to improved performance over individual models.

Example Process:

How Did Ensemble Learning Come into Existence?

One of the first uses of ensemble methods was the bagging technique. This technique was developed to overcome instability in decision trees. An example of the bagging technique is the random forest algorithm. The random forest is an ensemble of multiple decision trees. Decision trees tend to be prone to overfitting. Because of this, a single decision tree can’t be relied on to make predictions. To improve the prediction accuracy of decision trees, bagging is employed to form a random forest. The resulting random forest has a lower variance compared to the individual trees.

The success of bagging led to developing other ensemble techniques such as boosting, stacking, and many others. Today, these developments are an important part of machine learning.

The many real-life machine learning applications show these ensemble methods’ importance. These applications include many critical systems. These include decision-making systems, spam detection, autonomous vehicles, medical diagnosis, etc. These systems are crucial because they can impact human lives and business revenues. Therefore, ensuring the accuracy of machine learning models is paramount. An inaccurate model can lead to disastrous consequences for many businesses or organizations. At worst, they can lead to the endangerment of human lives.

How Ensemble Learning Works?

Ensemble learning is a learning method that consists of combining multiple machine learning models.

A problem in machine learning is that individual models tend to perform poorly. In other words, they tend to have low prediction accuracy. To mitigate this problem, we combine multiple models to get one with a better performance.

The individual models that we combine are known as weak learners. We call them weak learners because they either have a high bias or high variance. Because they either have high bias or variance, weak learners cannot learn efficiently and perform poorly.

High-bias and High-variance Models

  • A high-bias model results from not learning data well enough. It is not related to the distribution of the data. Hence, future predictions will be unrelated to the data and thus incorrect.
Ensemble Learning Methods | High-bias and High-variance Models
  • A high-variance model results from learning the data too well. It varies with each data point, making it impossible to predict the next point accurately.
Ensemble Learning Methods | High-bias and High-variance Models

Thus, both high bias and high variance models cannot be generalized properly. Thus, weak learners will make incorrect generalizations or fail to generalize altogether. Because of this, the predictions of weak learners cannot be relied on by themselves.

As we know from the bias-variance trade-off, an underfit model has high bias and low variance, whereas an overfit model has high variance and low bias. In either case, there is no balance between bias and variance. For there to be a balance, both the bias and variance need to be low. Ensemble learning tries to balance this bias-variance trade-off by reducing either the bias or the variance.

Ensemble learning aims to reduce the bias if we have a weak model with high bias and low variance. This way, the resulting model will be much more balanced, with low bias and variance. Thus, the resulting model will be known as a strong learner. This model will be more generalized than the weak learners. It will thus be able to make accurate predictions.

Ensemble Learning Methods

Monitoring Ensemble Learning Models

We use bagging to combine weak learners of high variance. Bagging aims to produce a model with lower variance than the individual weak models. These weak learners are homogenous, meaning they are of the same type.

Bagging is also known as Bootstrap aggregating. It consists of two steps: bootstrapping and aggregation.

Bootstrapping

Involves resampling subsets of data with replacement from an initial dataset. In other words, the initial dataset provides subsets of data. Creating these subsets, bootstrapped datasets or simply bootstraps, by resampling ‘with replacement,’ which means an individual data point can be sampled multiple times. Each bootstrap dataset trains a weak learner.

Aggregating

Individual weak learners train independently from each other. Each learner makes independent predictions. The system aggregates the results of those predictions to get the overall prediction. The predictions are aggregated using either max voting or averaging.

Max Voting

It is commonly used for classification problems to take the mode of the predictions (the most occurring prediction). It’s called voting because, like in election voting, the premise is that ‘the majority rules.’ Each model makes a prediction, and a prediction from each model counts as a single ‘vote.’ The most occurring ‘vote’ is chosen as the representative for the combined model.

Averaging

Using it generally for regression problems. It involves taking the average of the predictions. The resulting average is used as the overall prediction for the combined model.

Steps of Bagging

Processing of bagging | Ensemble learning in ML

The steps of bagging are as follows:

  1. We have an initial training dataset containing n-number of instances.
  2. We create a m-number of subsets of data from the training set.  We take a subset of N sample points from the initial dataset for each subset. Each subset is taken with replacement. This means that a specific data point can be sampled more than once.
  3. For each subset of data, we train the corresponding weak learners independently. These models are homogeneous, meaning that they are of the same type.
  4. Each model makes a prediction.
  5. Aggregating the predictions into a single prediction. For this, using either max voting or averaging.

Reducing Bias by Boosting

We use boosting to combine weak learners with high bias. Boosting aims to produce a model with a lower bias than the individual models. Like in bagging, the weak learners are homogeneous.

Boosting involves sequentially training weak learners. Here, each subsequent learner improves the errors of previous learners in the sequence. A sample of data is first taken from the initial dataset. Using this sample to train the first model, and the model makes its prediction. The samples can either be correctly or incorrectly predicted. The samples that are wrongly predicted are reused for training the next model. In this way, subsequent models can improve on the errors of previous models.

Unlike bagging, which aggregates prediction results at the end, boosting aggregates the results at each step. They are aggregated using weighted averaging.

Weighted averaging involves giving all models different weights depending on their predictive power. In other words, it gives more weight to the model with the highest predictive power. This is because the learner with the highest predictive power is considered the most important.

Steps of Boosting

ensemble learning in machine learning , process of boosting

Boosting works with the following steps:

  1. We sample m-number of subsets from an initial training dataset.
  2. Using the first subset, we train the first weak learner.
  3. We test the trained weak learner using the training data. As a result of the testing, some data points will be incorrectly predicted.
  4. Each data point with the wrong prediction is sent into the second subset of data, and this subset is updated.
  5. Using this updated subset, we train and test the second weak learner.
  6. We continue with the following subset until the total number of subsets is reached.
  7. We now have the total prediction. The overall prediction has already been aggregated at each step, so there is no need to calculate it.

Improving Model Accuracy with Stacking

We use stacking to improve the prediction accuracy of strong learners. Stacking aims to create a single robust model from multiple heterogeneous strong learners.

Stacking differs from bagging and boosting in that:

  • It combines strong learners
  • It combines heterogeneous models
  • It consists of creating a Metamodel.

Individual heterogeneous models are trained using an initial dataset. These models make predictions and form a single new dataset using those predictions. Using this new data set to train the metamodel, which makes the final prediction. Combining the prediction using weighted averaging.

Because stacking combines strong learners, it can combine bagged or boosted models.

Steps of Stacking

process of stacking | Ensemble Learning in machine learning | Bagging and Boosting

The steps of Stacking are as follows:

  1. We use initial training data to train m-number of algorithms.
  2. Using the output of each algorithm, we create a new training set.
  3. Using the new training set, we create a meta-model algorithm.
  4. Using the results of the meta-model, we make the final prediction. Combining the result using weighted averaging.

Implementation of Using Bagging, Boosting, and Stacking in Python

Sure! Let’s explore how to implement ensemble models like bagging, boosting, and stacking in Python using popular libraries like scikit-learn, XGBoost, and others.

1. Bagging

We’ll use the Random Forest classifier, which is a common implementation of bagging, using scikit-learn.

# Import necessary libraries

from sklearn.ensemble import RandomForestClassifier

from sklearn.datasets import load_iris

from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split

from sklearn.metrics import accuracy_score

# Load dataset

iris = load_iris()

X = iris.data

y = iris.target

# Split dataset into training and test sets

X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(X, y, test_size=0.3, random_state=42)

# Initialize and train the RandomForest classifier

rf_clf = RandomForestClassifier(n_estimators=100, random_state=42)

rf_clf.fit(X_train, y_train)

# Make predictions

y_pred = rf_clf.predict(X_test)

# Evaluate the model

accuracy = accuracy_score(y_test, y_pred)

print(f"Random Forest Classifier Accuracy: {accuracy:.2f}")

2. Boosting

We’ll use XGBoost, a powerful boosting algorithm, to demonstrate boosting.

# Import necessary libraries

import xgboost as xgb

from sklearn.datasets import load_iris

from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split

from sklearn.metrics import accuracy_score

# Load dataset

iris = load_iris()

X = iris.data

y = iris.target

# Split dataset into training and test sets

X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(X, y, test_size=0.3, random_state=42)

# Initialize and train the XGBoost classifier

xgb_clf = xgb.XGBClassifier(n_estimators=100, learning_rate=0.1, random_state=42)

xgb_clf.fit(X_train, y_train)

# Make predictions

y_pred = xgb_clf.predict(X_test)

# Evaluate the model

accuracy = accuracy_score(y_test, y_pred)

print(f"XGBoost Classifier Accuracy: {accuracy:.2f}")

3. Stacking

We’ll use the Stacking Classifier from scikit-learn to implement stacking.

# Import necessary libraries

from sklearn.ensemble import StackingClassifier

from sklearn.ensemble import RandomForestClassifier

from sklearn.linear_model import LogisticRegression

from sklearn.svm import SVC

from sklearn.datasets import load_iris

from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split

from sklearn.metrics import accuracy_score

# Load dataset

iris = load_iris()

X = iris.data

y = iris.target

# Split dataset into training and test sets

X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(X, y, test_size=0.3, random_state=42)

# Define base models

base_models = [

('rf', RandomForestClassifier(n_estimators=100, random_state=42)),

('svm', SVC(probability=True, random_state=42))

]

# Define meta-model

meta_model = LogisticRegression()

# Initialize and train the StackingClassifier

stacking_clf = StackingClassifier(estimators=base_models, final_estimator=meta_model)

stacking_clf.fit(X_train, y_train)

# Make predictions

y_pred = stacking_clf.predict(X_test)

# Evaluate the model

accuracy = accuracy_score(y_test, y_pred)

print(f"Stacking Classifier Accuracy: {accuracy:.2f}")

When to use Bagging vs Boosting vs Stacking?

Bagging and boosting and Stacking , Ensemble learning in machine learning

You can use bagging to reduce your model’s overfitting or variance, boosting to reduce underfitting or bias, or stacking to increase predictive accuracy.

Bagging and boosting both work with homogeneous weak learners. Stacking works using heterogeneous solid learners.

All three of these methods can work with either classification or regression problems.

One disadvantage of boosting is that it is prone to variance or overfitting. It is thus not advisable to use boosting to reduce variance. Boosting will do a worse job of reducing variance as compared to bagging.

On the other hand, the converse is true. It is not advisable to use bagging to reduce bias or underfitting. This is because bagging is more prone to bias and does not help reduce bias.

Stacked models have the advantage of better prediction accuracy than bagging or boosting. However, because they combine bagged or boosted models, they have the disadvantage of needing much more time and computational power.   If you are looking for faster results, it’s advisable not to use stacking. However, stacking is the way to go if you’re looking for high accuracy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding and effectively applying ensemble learning techniques like bagging, boosting, and stacking is crucial for enhancing the performance and robustness of machine learning models. By mastering these techniques, data scientists and machine learning practitioners can significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of their models, making ensemble learning an indispensable tool in data science. Whether tackling classification or regression problems, strategically bagging, boosting and stacking can lead to more robust and accurate predictive models, ultimately driving better decision-making and insights across various applications.

Through this comprehensive overview, we have delved into the mechanics and benefits of each ensemble method, providing a clear understanding of when and how to apply them for optimal model performance. As the machine learning landscape evolves, proficiency in these ensemble learning techniques will remain a key competency for achieving cutting-edge results.

Here are the key insights from the article:

  • Ensemble learning combines multiple machine learning models into a single model. The aim is to increase the performance of the model.
  • Bagging aims to decrease variance, boosting aims to decrease bias, and stacking aims to improve prediction accuracy.
  • Bagging and boosting combine homogenous weak learners. Stacking combines heterogeneous solid learners.
  • Bagging trains models in parallel and boosting trains the models sequentially. Stacking creates a meta-model.

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Also Read: Know About Ensemble Methods in Machine Learning

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is ensemble learning give an example?

A. Ensemble learning combines multiple models to improve predictive performance. For instance, combining decision trees with random forests.

Q2. What is an example of an ensemble method in machine learning?

A. One example is the Gradient Boosting ensemble method, which combines weak learners into a strong predictive model.

Q3. Which are the three types of ensemble learning?

A. The three types are Bagging, Boosting, and Stacking. Each involves combining multiple models to enhance accuracy and robustness.

Q4. What are the three ensemble methods?

A. The three ensemble methods are Random Forest, Gradient Boosting, and AdaBoost. These methods use different techniques to combine models for improved predictions.

Q5.What is the difference between boosting and bagging overfitting?

Bagging: Reduces variance by averaging predictions from models trained on different subsets of data. Effective for models with high variance.

Boosting: Reduces bias by sequentially training models that focus on errors of previous models. Effective for models with high bias.

Both techniques can help prevent overfitting, and the choice depends on the dataset and model characteristics.

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Mbali Kalirane 24 May 2024

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