Interview with Susan Nelson Spencer

Susan Nelson Spencer is an instructional designer and the author of Next-Level Instructional Design. We had the opportunity to sit down with her and learn more about her experience of writing with Packt.

Susan: Next-Level Instructional Design: Master the four competencies shared by professional instructional designers.

Q: What are your specialist tech areas?

Susan: Instructional design, learning experience design, eLearning development using Articulate 360 course authoring tools, learning design.

Q: How did you become an author for Packt? Tell us about your journey. What was your motivation for writing this book?

Susan: While I was working as a college instructor, I realized I was doing above and beyond my job description. In addition to teaching, I was writing, designing, and developing eLearning courses for the college. At the time, I had no idea that meant I was also doing the job of an instructional designer. After I learned that instructional design was a field in and of itself, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in the field. Before I had completed my degree, I was already freelancing as an “ID” for an eLearning agency, working on projects for Fortune 500 companies. Soon after, I started my own learning design agency, Sandbox Learning Experience Design, and haven’t looked back since! When Packt approached me to write a book about improving one’s skills in instructional design, I was more than happy to say yes. My motivation in writing this book is to share my experience with others who may also be already doing ID work, but may not realize it – or are already aware, but want more direction on how to level up their capabilities to get into the field.

Q: What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?

Susan: I did a lot of research for the book. I would say approximately 50% of the time I spent writing each chapter was on research. In addition to talking with other IDs, I took a deep dive into some instructional design models, agile program management, creativity, and design thinking.

Q: Did you face any challenges during the writing process? How did you overcome them?

Susan: Finding time to write whilst working on various ID client projects was difficult. My editor and program manager were very understanding with timeline extensions. Instructional designers write a lot for their work, so sometimes it was hard to find the motivation to write yet more for the book on the weekends. Fortunately, I enjoy writing, so I found that if I gave myself a one-day break between my “day job” and writing the book, I was usually up for it. Slowly but surely, I got there.

Q: What’s your take on the technologies discussed in the book? Where do you see these technologies heading in the future?

Susan: Unlike many Packt books, this book is not all about technology. Instead, it takes the reader through the “four competencies” that professional IDs share. Software tools used in eLearning development are certainly mentioned, but they are not the focus of the book.

Q: Why should readers choose this book over others already on the market? How would you differentiate your book from its competition?

Susan: There are a lot of books out there on instructional design. Many of them talk about common theories in instructional design; others talk about what instructional design means. This book is different in that the target reader has already dabbled in ID, most likely as a learning and development professional, educator, writer, or graphic/UX designer. In Next-Level Instructional Design, it’s assumed the reader already has a few learning or training projects under their belt and is looking for more direction on what skills and competencies they need to develop in order to fully enter the field.

Q: What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away with from the book?

Susan: I’d like readers to know that while technical development skills are important in instructional design, your core competencies are even more important. It’s really easy to find an expert eLearning developer, but it’s much harder to find someone who can expertly analyze content, research, structure information, write, and design eLearning lessons. I would say the key takeaway of the book is to first develop the key competencies mentioned in the book BEFORE you enhance your technology skills.

Q. What advice would you give to readers jumping into this technology? Do you have any top tips?

Susan: Instructional design is a complicated field. As an ID in higher education, you may never need to learn Articulate 360 or Adobe Captivate technologies but instead may need to be an expert at various Learning Management Systems. It’s a vast field with lots of different types of target learner audiences. Decide which area of ID you’d like to go into, work on your own ID competencies (as the book outlines), THEN decide which technology you will need to become an expert in.

Q. Do you have a blog that readers can follow?

Susan: No

Q: Can you share any blogs, websites, and forums to help readers gain a holistic view of the tech they are learning? What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away with from the book?

Susan: I recommend Articulate 360’s “E-Learning Heroes” blog. There is an answer for everything Articulate technology-related there! I also highly recommend Devlin Peck’s Articulate Storyline boot camp. It’s a supportive model with video lessons and other learners that you can team up with as you move through the lessons to help each other learn the tips and tricks of the technology.

Q. How would you describe your author’s journey with Packt? Would you recommend Packt to aspiring authors?

Susan: I liked working with Packt. I’ve heard nightmare stories of writing books with more traditional publishers – ongoing edits, slow-moving processes, etc. With Packt, they set everything up for you in your own portal and really have fine-tuned the book development funnel. I found this level of structure very helpful in getting things done.

Q. Do you belong to any tech community groups?

Susan: Yes, I’m a member of several instructional design-related groups. I belong to my master program’s alumni group, a slack channel called eLearning Heros, Devlin Peck’s ID community, Online Network of Independent Learning Professionals, Learning, Education, and Training Professionals Group, eLearning Global Network, Learning Experience Design Community, Designers for Learning, and my local chapter of the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

Q. What are your favorite tech journals? How do you keep yourself up to date on tech?

Susan: I generally keep up to date via the various LinkedIn posts that pop up in my feed from the above groups. Instructional designers like to share everything and anything about new technology trends. Moreover, I like to participate in Articulate’s many webinar courses and check their blog often.

Q. How did you organize, plan, and prioritize your work and write the book?

Susan: I set a schedule for myself and worked on the book first thing in the morning and on the weekends. I set up milestones for each chapter and also entered them into Asana, the project management tool.

Q. What is that one writing tip that you found most crucial and would like to share with aspiring authors?

Susan: My writing tip is to schedule your writing hours as well as deadlines and milestones for your book project. Also, outlining and researching first BEFORE actually starting the writing of each chapter helped me immensely.

Q. Would you like to share your social handles? If so, please share.

Susan: LinkedIn

You can find Susan’s book on Amazon by following this link: Please click here

Next-Level Instructional Design is available on