5 Best Ways to Continue Training with TensorFlow and Pre-trained Models Using Python

Rate this post

πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: In applied machine learning, enhancing the performance of an AI model without starting from scratch is a common scenario. Specifically, the problem addressed in this article involves taking a pre-trained TensorFlow model and further training it with new data using Python to improve its accuracy or to extend its capabilities to new tasks. For example, one may have a pre-trained image recognition model that needs to be refined with a dataset of new images to recognize additional categories.

Method 1: Load and Extend Pre-trained Models with Keras

TensorFlow provides the Keras API, enabling easy loading and extending of pre-trained models. You can leverage such models, tweak them (known as transfer learning), and continue training with your dataset. The function specification involves loading the pre-trained model, possibly adding new layers, and fine-tuning the model weights with new data.

Here’s an example:

from tensorflow.keras.applications import VGG16
from tensorflow.keras import layers
from tensorflow.keras.models import Model

# Load the pre-trained VGG16 model
base_model = VGG16(weights='imagenet', include_top=False)
base_model.trainable = False  # Freeze the base model

# Add new layers
x = layers.Flatten()(base_model.output)
x = layers.Dense(1024, activation='relu')(x)
predictions = layers.Dense(10, activation='softmax')(x)

# Define the new model
model = Model(inputs=base_model.input, outputs=predictions)

# Compile and continue training
model.compile(optimizer='adam', loss='categorical_crossentropy', metrics=['accuracy'])

Output Explanation:

This script doesn’t produce output until the training starts. It demonstrates initializing a VGG16 pre-trained model, freezing its weights, adding custom layers, and compiling the new model for further training.

Method 2: Fine-tuning Specific Layers

Fine-tuning specific layers of a pre-trained model allows for retraining more adaptable parts of the network while keeping other layers intact. This approach is beneficial when the new data is somewhat similar to the original training data. You selectively unfreeze the deeper layers and update their weights during further training.

Here’s an example:

model = ...  # Assume a pre-trained model is already loaded

# Unfreeze last N layers for fine-tuning
for layer in model.layers[-5:]:
    layer.trainable = True

# Compile the model with a lower learning rate
model.compile(optimizer='adam', loss='categorical_crossentropy', metrics=['accuracy'])

# Continue training with new data

Output Explanation:

This snippet shows how to unfreeze the last five layers of a pre-trained model and compile the model with a new optimizer. The output upon training would reflect updated performance metrics.

Method 3: Use Pre-trained Models as Feature Extractors

Pre-trained models can serve as powerful feature extractors. You pass your data through the pre-trained model and use its outputs as inputs for a new model. This method is especially useful when your new dataset is small and doesn’t allow full-scale retraining of all layers effectively.

Here’s an example:

model = ...  # Assume a pre-trained model is already loaded

# Use the pre-trained model as a feature extractor
model.trainable = False

# Extract features
features = model.predict(my_new_data)

# Train a new classifier using these features

Output Explanation:

This code doesn’t directly output results. It captures the procedure of using a pre-trained model to extract features which can then be fed into a new classifier model.

Method 4: Employing Custom Data Generators

Custom data generators allow you to pre-process new data in a way that matches the pre-trained model’s expectations and feed it into the model for continuous training. TensorFlow’s ImageDataGenerator class simplifies this task by handling data augmentation and pre-processing steps on-the-fly during training.

Here’s an example:

from tensorflow.keras.preprocessing.image import ImageDataGenerator

# Create an ImageDataGenerator instance for data augmentation
datagen = ImageDataGenerator(rotation_range=20, width_shift_range=0.2, height_shift_range=0.2)

# Assuming a pre-trained model is already instantiated named 'model'

# Configure the dataset
train_generator = datagen.flow_from_directory('path_to_training_data', target_size=(224, 224), batch_size=32)

# Continue training with augmented data
model.fit(train_generator, epochs=5)

Output Explanation:

The code sample above creates a data generator and associates it with a training dataset directory. While this snippet executes, it augments data in real-time, which then gets used for training, enhancing model generalization.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Saving and Loading Model Weights

Model state preservation between training sessions is key to incremental learning. Saving and loading model weights allows for continuous, session-independent training.

Here’s an example:

model.save_weights('my_model_weights.h5')  # Save weights
model.load_weights('my_model_weights.h5')  # Load weights for continued training

Output Explanation:

No immediate output, but this enables the saving and subsequent loading of trained weights for use in continuous model training.


  • Method 1: Extending Pre-trained Models with Keras. Strengths: Simplifies the process of model extension, seamlessly integrating new layers. Weaknesses: May require careful design to maintain compatibility with pre-trained model architecture.
  • Method 2: Fine-tuning Specific Layers. Strengths: Offers a targeted learning approach, focusing on specific layer adaptation. Weaknesses: Involves manual selection of layers, may require in-depth model understanding.
  • Method 3: Using Pre-trained Models as Feature Extractors. Strengths: Minimizes overfitting on small datasets, leverages the extractive power of pre-trained networks. Weaknesses: Does not update the feature extractor itself, which could limit performance improvements.
  • Method 4: Employing Custom Data Generators. Strengths: Automates the feeding of augmented data, promotes model robustness. Weaknesses: Augmentation choices must align with the problem domain to avoid misguiding the training process.
  • Method 5: Saving and Loading Model Weights. Strengths: Preserves training states across sessions, offering modular training convenience. Weaknesses: Does not account for updates to model architecture or pre-processing requirements.