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Zero shot Learning vs One Shot Learning vs Few Shot Learning: Machine Learning Approaches

Machine learning has opened up exciting possibilities for computers to learn and make decisions from data. Within the realm of machine learning, there are different approaches to handling situations where there is limited or unseen data. In this article, we will explore three of these approaches: zero-shot learning, one-shot learning, and few-shot learning. We will break down these concepts in simple terms and understand how they can help machines learn and adapt with minimal data.

Zero shot learning is when a model can recognize new things it has never seen before. One shot learning is about training a model to recognize something with just one example. Few shot learning is a method where a model can learn from a few examples. These approaches are valuable because they reduce the need for extensive training data and enable machines to handle new scenarios more effectively.

What is Zero Shot Learning?

Zero shot learning is a type of machine learning where a model learns to recognize new things it has never seen before. It's like when you learn to recognize a zebra even though you've never seen one before, because you know zebras look like striped horses.

Zero-shot Learning vs One-Shot Learning vs Few-Shot Learning: Machine Learning Approaches (1)

In zero-shot learning, the model uses additional information, like descriptions or attributes, to connect what it has learned to new things. For example, if the model has been trained on images of animals and also has descriptions of what animals look like, it can use that knowledge to recognize animals based on their similarities to known animals.

For example, consider the image above. Let's say the model has been trained to respond to user prompts related to dog breeds in India. When prompted with a query like "List of dog breeds in India," the model will utilize its training and additional information to provide a comprehensive list of dog breeds found in India. This list can include various categories such as family dogs, large breeds, and small breeds. By leveraging its knowledge, the model can generate an accurate and informative response based on the specific query.

A situation where Zero-Shot learning fails

There are situations where zero-shot learning doesn't work well.

Case 1:

One example is when there is a gap between the descriptions and the actual features of the data. For instance, if the model is trained on text documents from different domains, it may struggle to classify a new document from a completely different domain that uses different words or writing styles.

Case 2:

Another case is when there is a difference between the training and testing data. For instance, if the model is trained on images of animals from one dataset, it may have trouble recognizing new animals from a different dataset that have different backgrounds or poses.

Case 3:

Additionally, zero-shot learning can face problems when there is an imbalance in the classes or when some classes are closer to many other classes in the model's understanding. For example, if the model is trained on images of objects with different shapes and sizes, it may struggle to distinguish between similar classes that are represented closely in its learning space.


  1. Zero-shot learning allows models to generalize and make predictions on classes or categories that were not seen during training. This enables the system to handle novel or rare classes effectively.

  2. Zero-shot learning reduces the burden of manually annotating large amounts of training data for every class or category. It leverages semantic relationships or auxiliary information to bridge the gap between seen and unseen classes.


  1. Zero-shot learning heavily relies on external sources of information or knowledge, such as semantic embeddings or attribute descriptions. If the available auxiliary information is incomplete or inaccurate, it can negatively impact the model's performance.

  2. Since zero-shot learning is based on generalizing from seen to unseen classes, the discrimination power of the model may be limited compared to methods that have specific training examples for each class.

Zero-shot learning is about teaching models to recognize new things they haven't seen before, but there are challenges when the descriptions and features don't match, when the training and testing data differ, or when the classes are imbalanced or closely related.

What is One-Shot Learning?

One-shot learning is a type of machine learning that helps models learn from very few examples or one example. It's especially useful when we have limited data to train our models. In one-shot learning, the model learns from just one example per category.

Zero-shot Learning vs One-Shot Learning vs Few-Shot Learning: Machine Learning Approaches

For example, let's consider the image above. Suppose the model has been trained to handle user queries specifically related to dog breeds in India, with a particular focus on family dog breeds. When prompted with a query such as "List of dog breeds in India. For example, family dog breeds," the model, utilizing its one-shot learning capabilities, will provide you with a comprehensive list of dog breeds that are suitable for keeping as family pets.

A situation where One-Shot learning fails

There are cases where one-shot learning may not work well.

For example, if the input images have variations like different poses, lighting conditions, occlusions, or backgrounds, the model may struggle to recognize the same person.

Similarly, if the model is trained on a few examples from one domain but needs to classify new examples from a different domain with a different vocabulary or style, it may fail to do so.

Additionally, if the model can't learn a meaningful way to measure similarities between classes, it may struggle to distinguish between different categories.


  1. One-shot learning is capable of recognizing new instances or categories with only a single training example, making it useful in scenarios where obtaining abundant labeled data is challenging or time-consuming.

  2. One-shot learning enables models to quickly adapt and learn new tasks or concepts with minimal training. This can be advantageous in situations that require rapid response or continuous learning.


  1. One-shot learning can be sensitive to variations in the few available training examples. Small differences in appearance, background, or lighting conditions may result in decreased accuracy and reliability.

  2. With only a single training example, models are susceptible to overfitting, where they may learn specific details of the training instance instead of capturing the general pattern or concept.

One-shot learning is a useful technique when we have limited data, but it may encounter difficulties in handling variations in input, generalizing to new categories, or learning meaningful representations.

What is Few-Shot Learning?

Few-shot learning is a type of machine learning where the training data is limited. It allows an AI model to classify and recognize new data after being shown only a few examples. This is useful when we want the model to learn a new task with only a small number of labeled examples.

Zero-shot Learning vs One-Shot Learning vs Few-Shot Learning: Machine Learning Approaches

Few-shot learning is commonly used in computer vision and can also be applied to natural language processing with large language models. It is important because it reduces the amount of data required for training a machine learning model and enables the development of flexible systems that can learn from rare cases or new domains.

Let's look at the image above. Imagine that the model has been trained to answer questions about dog breeds in India, specifically focusing on family dog breeds. For example, if you ask for a list of dog breeds in India, particularly family-friendly ones like the Pomeranian, the model, which has the ability to learn from just a few examples, will provide you with information specifically about Pomeranian dogs. It will share details about their characteristics and why they make good family pets in India.

A situation where Few-Shot learning fails

There are cases where few-shot learning may not work well.

One example is when the model faces data scarcity or overfitting, where it learns specific details of the few training examples instead of the general pattern. For instance, if there are rare bird species with very few pictures, a bird classifier trained with limited data might struggle to recognize new images of the same species with different backgrounds or lighting conditions.

Another example is task complexity or diversity, where the model fails to learn a rich representation that captures variations among different classes. In natural language understanding, the model may struggle with new domains or topics with different vocabulary or sentence structures.

Few-shot learning may fail when it comes to evaluation or optimization. The model might struggle to find a suitable metric or objective function to measure performance or guide the learning process effectively. For instance, the model may have difficulty learning from limited demonstrations or noisy feedback signals in robotics.


  1. Few-shot learning allows models to learn and generalize from a small number of labeled examples, striking a balance between the data requirements of traditional machine learning and the data scarcity in one-shot learning.

  2. Few-shot learning enables models to adapt and perform well in new domains or categories by leveraging prior knowledge and generalizing from a limited set of training examples.


  1. Few-shot learning can be sensitive to noisy or mislabeled examples in the limited training set, leading to reduced accuracy and robustness.

  2. Capturing rich and robust feature representations that can effectively capture variations and similarities among different classes can be challenging in few-shot learning.

Factors that can affect the performance

There are several factors that can impact the performance of these techniques. Let's explore some of these factors:

  1. Quality and quantity of labeled data: The performance of these techniques heavily relies on the availability of high-quality labeled data for the existing classes. Sufficient data enables the models to learn accurate representations and make reliable predictions.

  2. Similarity or dissimilarity between new and existing classes: The similarity or dissimilarity between the new classes and the classes seen during training can affect the ability of the models to generalize. When the new classes are similar to the existing ones, the models may perform better, while greater dissimilarity can pose challenges.

  3. Choice of embedding space or projection function: The choice of embedding space or projection function plays a crucial role in mapping the features and attributes of the data into a common space. An effective choice can enhance the models' ability to capture meaningful relationships and similarities.

  4. Choice of metric or loss function: The metric or loss function used to measure the distance or similarity between examples and classes is an important consideration. Selecting an appropriate metric or loss function can help the models discriminate between different classes effectively.

  5. Model architecture and hyperparameters: The choice of model architecture and hyperparameters is essential for addressing the challenges of data scarcity and generalization. Optimal model design and appropriate hyperparameter tuning can enable the models to learn from limited data and generalize well to new instances.


By using zero-shot, one-shot, and few-shot learning, machine learning systems can handle scenarios with limited or unseen data, providing accurate predictions and adapting to new tasks or domains. These approaches open up possibilities for developing more flexible, adaptive, and efficient machine learning systems that can learn from rare cases, generalize well, and perform effectively with minimal labeled data.


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