Cal-QL: Calibrated Offline RL Pre-Training for Efficient Online Fine-Tuning

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Mitsuhiko Nakamoto, Simon Zhai, Anikait Singh, Max Sobol Mark, Yi Ma, Chelsea Finn, Aviral Kumar, Sergey Levine


A compelling use case of offline reinforcement learning (RL) is to obtain a policy initialization from existing datasets followed by fast online fine-tuning with limited interaction. However, existing offline RL methods tend to behave poorly during fine-tuning. In this paper, we devise an approach for learning an effective initialization from offline data that also enables fast online fine-tuning capabilities. Our approach, calibrated Q-learning (Cal-QL), accomplishes this by learning a conservative value function initialization that underestimates the value of the learned policy from offline data, while also being calibrated, in the sense that the learned Q-values are at a reasonable scale. We refer to this property as calibration, and define it formally as providing a lower bound on the true value function of the learned policy and an upper bound on the value of some other (suboptimal) reference policy, which may simply be the behavior policy. We show that offline RL algorithms that learn such calibrated value functions lead to effective online fine-tuning, enabling us to take the benefits of offline initializations in online fine-tuning. In practice, Cal-QL can be implemented on top of the conservative Q learning (CQL) for offline RL within a one-line code change. Empirically, Cal-QL outperforms state-of-the-art methods on 9/11 fine-tuning benchmark tasks that we study in this paper. Code and video are available at