How Southwest Uses Learning Mascots —and You Can Too!

Southwest's learning mascots, the Marshalls.

When the hurdles and hassles of air travel come to mind, our hearts probably don’t pitter-patter. But chances are if you fly Southwest, you expect a pretty smooth experience. Southwest’s messaging is accessible and friendly, their personality is humble and human, and their employees do everything they can to emulate these brand characteristics.

By developing a couple of lively and downright loveable mascots—aka The Marshalls—Maestro helped Southwest create learning that inspired their team to take full advantage of their new Learning Management System (LMS), so they could continue to provide the warmhearted, no nonsense experience customers all know and love.  And guess what? The learning mascots were such a hit, they continue to show up in learning initiatives throughout the company.

But what is a learning mascot? Are they right for your organization? Does it really enhance the learning experience? How do you go about developing a learning mascot? We’ve got you covered.

What are learning mascots? 

When we say mascots, we don’t mean the costume-clad mega fans running up and down the sidelines. Yet learning mascots do have similar facets. Mascots represent a brand, they entertain, and they’re designed to engage with their specific audience. In the case of Southwest, the learning mascots became an integral part of their learning design and experience. Along with personifying the brand, they also embody Southwest’s culture, as any good mascot should. 

Characters created to help Southwest's learners navigate their LMS.

Meet The Marshalls, Southwest’s learning mascots

Those illuminated wands wielded by aircraft marshalls? They’re the inspiration behind The Marshalls. This dynamic orange duo succeeded in helping learners navigate Southwest’s one-stop LMS not only because they were easily recognizable in the industry, but also because their fun and quirky personalities clicked with the company’s brand and culture. 

The Marshalls reinforced the team dynamics and distinct personalities common to Southwest’s marshalling crew. One Marshall is older and wiser; the other is the “Young Buck” eager to jump in, seize the day, and learn new things. From their earliest sketches to their much more fine-tuned gifs, we created two clear identities, including separate movements, motivations, and voices for each mascot. 

early sketches of the marshalls, the Southwest mascots. While traditional Learning Management Systems or eLearning courses offer planeloads of valuable information, they can be text-heavy and dry without the right attention to detail. Learning mascots like The Marshalls, however, make this type of subject matter more approachable, more engaging, and more memorable. For Southwest, The Marshalls inspired employees to interact with the LMS homepage, move through their learning to-do list, browse course catalogs, rate completed content, view training alerts and transcripts, and more.

Watch The Marshalls in action to see how they guided Southwest employees through a first-class learning experience. 

Can learning mascots create a better learning experience?

Learning mascots, like the Marshalls, might make more of an impact than you expect. In general, learning mascots can enhance the learning experience in several ways:

  • Connecting with learners
  • Acting as guides
  • Reinforcing learning concepts
  • Making content more interesting
  • Supporting your brand
  • Streamlining course development processes


Do Your eLearning Courses Need a Learning Mascot?

Because they were such a good representation of Southwest’s culture, The Marshalls enabled employees to be more receptive to content and fly through the learning experience. Plus, they helped solidify trust with and build credibility for Southwest’s Learning & Development team. Since their debut, The Marshalls have soared beyond their original scope, too, becoming mainstays in subsequent learning videos, training content, and internal branding at Southwest. 

Considering a mascot to amp up your company’s learning experiences? Here’s what you need to know

There’s no definitive answer as to whether you should or shouldn’t use a learning mascot, but if you’re considering a mascot, ask yourself these questions think through it:

  1. Will the mascot support and elevate your brand? Does a mascot fit with your company’s image or business area?
  2. Will the mascot resonate with your learners? 
  3. Do you have a solid rationale for using a mascot in your learning experience? (Mascots should be used consistently and carry a message over a long period of time through a myriad of courses and learning environments.)
  4. Will a mascot enhance or detract from the learning experience you plan to build?


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