Sequence Modeling is a Robust Contender for Offline Reinforcement Learning


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Offline reinforcement learning (RL) allows agents to learn effective, return-maximizing policies from a static dataset. Three major paradigms for offline RL are Q-Learning, Imitation Learning, and Sequence Modeling. A key open question is: which paradigm is preferred under what conditions? We study this question empirically by exploring the performance of representative algorithms -- Conservative Q-Learning (CQL), Behavior Cloning (BC), and Decision Transformer (DT) -- across the commonly used D4RL and Robomimic benchmarks. We design targeted experiments to understand their behavior concerning data suboptimality and task complexity. Our key findings are: (1) Sequence Modeling requires more data than Q-Learning to learn competitive policies but is more robust; (2) Sequence Modeling is a substantially better choice than both Q-Learning and Imitation Learning in sparse-reward and low-quality data settings; and (3) Sequence Modeling and Imitation Learning are preferable as task horizon increases, or when data is obtained from suboptimal human demonstrators. Based on the overall strength of Sequence Modeling, we also investigate architectural choices and scaling trends for DT on Atari and D4RL and make design recommendations. We find that scaling the amount of data for DT by 5x gives a 2.5x average score improvement on Atari.
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