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Knowledge transfer between tasks can improve the performance of learned models, but requires an accurate estimate of inter-task relationships to identify the relevant knowledge to transfer. These inter-task relationships are typically estimated based on training data for each task, which is inefficient in lifelong learning settings where the goal is to learn each consecutive task rapidly from as little data as possible. To reduce this burden, we develop a lifelong learning method based on coupled dictionary learning that utilizes high-level task descriptions to model inter-task relationships. We show that using task descriptors improves the performance of the learned task policies, providing both theoretical justification for the benefit and empirical demonstration of the improvement across a variety of learning problems. Given only the descriptor for a new task, the lifelong learner is also able to accurately predict a model for the new task through zero-shot learning using the coupled dictionary, eliminating the need to gather training data before addressing the task.