Unbiased Learning to Rank: Counterfactual and Online Approaches

Harrie Oosterhuis, Rolf Jagerman and Maarten de Rijke
Published in Companion Proceedings of the Web Conference 2020 (WWW ’20), 2020. [pdf, video, slides, website]

This tutorial is about Unbiased Learning to Rank, a recent research field that aims to learn unbiased user preferences from biased user interactions. We will provide an overview of the two main families of methods in Unbiased Learning to Rank: Counterfactual Learning to Rank (CLTR) and Online Learning to Rank (OLTR) and their underlying theory. First, the tutorial will start with a brief introduction to the general Learning to Rank (LTR) field and the difficulties user interactions pose for traditional supervised LTR methods. The second part will cover Counterfactual Learning to Rank (CLTR), a LTR field that sprung out of click models. Using an explicit model of user biases, CLTR methods correct for them in their learning process and can learn from historical data. Besides these methods, we will also cover practical considerations, such as how certain biases can be estimated. In the third part of the tutorial we focus on Online Learning to Rank (OLTR), methods that learn by directly interacting with users and dealing with biases by adding stochasticity to displayed results. We will cover cascading bandits, dueling bandit techniques and the most recent pairwise differentiable approach. Finally, in the concluding part of the tutorial, both approaches are contrasted, highlighting their relative strengths and weaknesses, and presenting future directions of research. For LTR practitioners our comparison gives guidance on how the choice between methods should be made. For the field of Information Retrieval (IR) we aim to provide an essential guide on unbiased LTR to understanding and choosing between methodologies.

Download the paper here.

Download the presentation slides here.

Find the official tutorial website here.

Recommended citation:

H. Oosterhuis, R. Jagerman, and M. de Rijke. "Unbiased Learning to Rank: Counterfactual and Online Approaches." In Companion Proceedings of the Web Conference 2020. ACM, 2020.