Recommender systems are AI-based algorithms that use different information to recommend products to customers. We can say that recommender systems are a subtype of machine learning because the algorithms “learn from their past,” i.e., use past data to predict the future.

Today, we’re exposed to vast amounts of information. The internet is overflowing with data on virtually any topic. Recommender systems are like filters that analyze the data and offer the users (you) only relevant information. Since what’s relevant to you may not interest someone else, these systems use unique criteria to provide the best results to everyone.

In this article, we’ll dig deep into recommender systems and discuss their types, applications, and challenges.

Types of Recommender Systems

Learning more about the types of recommender systems will help you understand their purpose.

Content-Based Filtering

With content-based filtering, it’s all about the features of a particular item. Algorithms pick up on specific characteristics to recommend a similar item to the user (you). Of course, the starting point is your previous actions and/or feedback.

Sounds too abstract, doesn’t it? Let’s explain it through a real-life example: movies. Suppose you’ve subscribed to a streaming platform and watched The Notebook (a romance/drama starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams). Algorithms will sniff around to investigate this movie’s properties:

  • Genre
  • Actors
  • Reviews
  • Title

Then, algorithms will suggest what to watch next and display movies with similar features. For example, you may find A Walk to Remember on your list (because it belongs to the same genre and is based on a book by the same author). But you may also see La La Land on the list (although it’s not the same genre and isn’t based on a book, it stars Ryan Gosling).

Some of the advantages of this type are:

  • It only needs data from a specific user, not a whole group.
  • It’s ideal for those who have interests that don’t fall into the mainstream category.

A potential drawback is:

  • It recommends only similar items, so users can’t really expand their interests.

Collaborative Filtering

In this case, users’ preferences and past behaviors “collaborate” with one another, and algorithms use these similarities to recommend items. We have two types of collaborative filtering: user-user and item-item.

User-User Collaborative Filtering

The main idea behind this type of recommender system is that people with similar interests and past purchases are likely to make similar selections in the future. Unlike the previous type, the focus here isn’t just on only one user but a whole group.

Collaborative filtering is popular in e-commerce, with a famous example being Amazon. It analyzes the customers’ profiles and reviews and offers recommended products using that data.

The main advantages of user-user collaborative filtering are:

  • It allows users to explore new interests and stay in the loop with trends.
  • It doesn’t need information about the specific characteristics of an item.

The biggest disadvantage is:

  • It can be overwhelmed by data volume and offer poor results.

Item-Item Collaborative Filtering

If you were ever wondering how Amazon knows you want a mint green protective case for the phone you just ordered, the answer is item-item collaborative filtering. Amazon invented this type of filtering back in 1998. With it, the e-commerce platform can make quick product suggestions and let users purchase them with ease. Here, the focus isn’t on similarities between users but between products.

Some of the advantages of item-item collaborative filtering are:

  • It doesn’t require information about the user.
  • It encourages users to purchase more products.

The main drawback is:

  • It can suffer from a decrease in performance when there’s a vast amount of data.

Hybrid Recommender Systems

As we’ve seen, both collaborative and content-based filtering have their advantages and drawbacks. Experts designed hybrid recommender systems that grab the best of both worlds. They overcome the problems behind collaborative and content-based filtering and offer better performance.

With hybrid recommender systems, algorithms take into account different factors:

  • Users’ preferences
  • Users’ past purchases
  • Users’ product ratings
  • Similarities between items
  • Current trends

A classic example of a hybrid recommender system is Netflix. Here, you’ll see the recommended content based on the TV shows and movies you’ve already watched. You can also discover content that users with similar interests enjoy and can see what’s trending at the moment.

The biggest strong points of this system are:

  • It offers precise and personalized recommendations.
  • It doesn’t have cold-start problems (poor performance due to lack of information).

The main drawback is:

  • It’s highly complex.

Machine Learning Techniques in Recommender Systems

It’s fair to say that machine learning is like the foundation stone of recommender systems. This sub-type of artificial intelligence (AI) represents the process of computers generating knowledge from data. We understand the “machine” part, but what does “learning” implicate? “Learning” means that machines improve their performance and enhance capabilities as they learn more information and become more “experienced.”

The four machine learning techniques recommender systems love are:

  • Supervised learning
  • Unsupervised learning
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Deep learning

Supervised Learning

In this case, algorithms feed off past data to predict the future. To do that, algorithms need to know what they’re looking for in the data and what the target is. The data in which we know the target label are named labeled datasets, and they teach algorithms how to classify data or make predictions.

Supervised learning has found its place in recommender systems because it helps understand patterns and offers valuable recommendations to users. It analyzes the users’ past behavior to predict their future. Plus, supervised learning can handle large amounts of data.

The most obvious drawback of supervised learning is that it requires human involvement, and training machines to make predictions is no walk in the park. There’s also the issue of result accuracy. Whether or not the results will be accurate largely depends on the input and target values.

Unsupervised Learning

With unsupervised learning, there’s no need to “train” machines on what to look for in datasets. Instead, the machines analyze the information to discover hidden patterns or similar features. In other words, you can sit back and relax while the algorithms do their magic. There’s no need to worry about inputs and target values, and that is one of the best things about unsupervised learning.

How does this machine learning technique fit into recommender systems? The main application is exploration. With unsupervised learning, you can discover trends and patterns you didn’t even know existed. It can discover surprising similarities and differences between users and their online behavior. Simply put, unsupervised learning can perfect your recommendation strategies and make them more precise and personal.

Reinforcement Learning

Reinforcement learning is another technique used in recommender systems. It functions like a reward-punishment system, where the machine has a goal that it needs to achieve through a series of steps. The machine will try a strategy, receive back, change the strategy as necessary, and try again until it reaches the goal and gets a reward.

The most basic example of reinforcement learning in recommender systems is movie recommendations. In this case, the “reward” would be the user giving a five-star rating to the recommended movie.

Deep Learning

Deep learning is one of the most advanced (and most fascinating) subcategories of AI. The main idea behind deep learning is building neural networks that mimic and function similarly to human brains. Machines that feature this technology can learn new information and draw their own conclusions without any human assistance.

Thanks to this, deep learning offers fine-tuned suggestions to users, enhances their satisfaction, and ultimately leads to higher profits for companies that use it.

Challenges and Future Trends in Recommender Systems

Although we may not realize it, recommender systems are the driving force of online purchases and content streaming. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to discover amazing TV shows, movies, songs, and products that make our lives better, simpler, and more enjoyable.

Without a doubt, the internet would look very different if it wasn’t for recommender systems. But as you may have noticed, what you see as recommended isn’t always what you want, need, or like. In fact, the recommendations can be so wrong that you may be shocked how the internet could misinterpret you like that. Recommender systems aren’t perfect (at least not yet), and they face different challenges that affect their performance:

  • Data sparsity and scalability – If users don’t leave a trace online (don’t review items), the machines don’t have enough data to analyze and make recommendations. Likewise, the datasets change and grow constantly, which can also represent an issue.
  • Cold start problem – When new users become a part of a system, they may not receive relevant recommendations because algorithms don’t “know” their preferences, past purchases, or ratings. The same goes for new items introduced to a system.
  • Privacy and security concerns – Privacy and security are always at the spotlight of recommender systems. The situation is a paradox. The more a system knows about you, the better recommendations you’ll get. At the same time, you may not be willing to let a system learn your personal information if you want to maintain your privacy. But then, you won’t enjoy great recommendations.
  • Incorporating contextual information – Besides “typical” information, other data can help make more precise and relevant recommendations. The problem is how to incorporate them.
  • Explainability and trust – Can a recommender system explain why it made a certain recommendation, and can you trust it?

Discover New Worlds with Recommender Systems

Recommender systems are growing smarter by the day, thanks to machine learning and technological advancements. The recommendations were introduced to allow us to save time and find exactly what we’re looking for in a jiff. At the same time, they let us experiment and try something different.

While recommender systems have come a long way, there’s still more than enough room for further development.

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New OPIT Degrees launching (soon)!
Riccardo Ocleppo
Nov 29, 2023 2 min read


Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.

🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)

Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.

🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)

Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.

💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!

We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Advanced AI
  • Digital Business
  • Metaverse & Gaming
  • Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).

🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)

With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.

🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch

We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.

Stay tuned for more updates!

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Five Reasons to Study Online at OPIT
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
Nov 29, 2023 9 min read

Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.

The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.

In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.

Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).

Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?

Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.

Reason 1 – A Practical Approach

OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.

“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.

OPIT takes a different approach.

It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.

An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.

Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support

Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.

You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.

Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.

Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.

In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.

You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.

Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly

The field of computer science is constantly evolving.

In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.

Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.

“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.

That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.

When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.

This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.

Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education

Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.

“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.

OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.

It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.

Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.

Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.

Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.

Reason 5 – The Learning Experience

Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.

After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.

Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.

OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.

Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education

At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.

There’s also more to come.

Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.

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