How the Church is experimenting with augmented reality to engage youth in gospel study

Have you ever wished you could experience and explore Lehi’s vision of the tree of life for yourself?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is releasing an interactive mobile app that uses augmented reality to engage members — particularly children and youth — to learn from the scriptures in a new way and apply what they learn to their lives.

The Tree of Life AR app — developed using content from the Book of Mormon Videos — focuses on the tree of life vision from 1 Nephi 8 in the Book of Mormon. The vision was selected as the subject for the app “because it’s rich in metaphor and appeals to a wide group of people,” said Bryan Lefler, an animation writer and director in the Church’s Publishing Services Department.

In addition, “many of the 3D assets, video, and photos we needed were captured during the production of the Book of Mormon Videos created by the Church,” said Michael Murdock from Murdock Motion, who partnered with the Church on the project. “This made Lehi’s dream ideal for the creation of the content and mobile app experience.”

Using the app

The Book of Mormon augmented reality experience of the tree of life allows you to look around and explore the different aspects of Lehi’s symbolic vision.

After you select a viewing surface, such as your table or floor, the experience opens on your mobile device, combining the environment around you with an artist’s interpretation of what the vision may have looked like. Sound effects of rushing water, voices, laughter and music add to the reality of the experience.

A screenshot from the Tree of Life AR app on a mobile phone. Scriptures, videos and questions to ponder help you learn more and relate elements of the vision to your life.
A screenshot from the Tree of Life AR app on a mobile phone. Scriptures, videos and questions to ponder help you learn more and relate elements of the vision to your life. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The app allows you to “walk around” and learn more about the characters and objects you see, such as Laman and Lemuel, the path, fountain, mists of darkness, rod of iron, great and spacious building and tree of life. “Navigation is driven primarily through physical movement,” said Murdock, “which adds a new level of engagement and a more unique experience.”

Scriptures, questions to ponder and videos from related conference talks explain the significance of each element you select to study and help make it applicable to your life today.

Teaching tool for ‘Come, Follow Me’ lessons

The Church is launching the app in time for parents and teachers to download and use the app for the Jan. 13–19 “Come, Follow Me” lesson that focuses on Lehi’s vision of the tree of life.

“The app follows the learning pattern for ‘Come, Follow Me’ curriculum by providing members with a non-linear experience to explore gospel materials, think about open-ended questions, and to have a unique visual experience that can help them relate the dream to their own lives,” said Kristin Yee, interactive and animation manager in the Church’s Publishing Services Department.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a method of superimposing sounds, images and text onto the world we see. According to Lefler, the technology is a relevant learning tool for today’s young people. “They’re comfortable in it,” he said, “and augmented reality calls upon almost all of your senses in the learning process.”

A screenshot of the Tree of Life AR app on a mobile phone shows an expanded, close-up view of one of the elements from the vision — the tree of life.
A screenshot of the Tree of Life AR app on a mobile phone shows an expanded, close-up view of one of the elements from the vision — the tree of life. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Justin Lether, an audience experience manager for the Church’s Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, said that “organizations all over the world are experimenting with augmented and virtual reality right now. Our interest is to figure out how we can use this emerging technology to bless people around the world with the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Future applications

“With this app, we’re trying to learn how augmented reality might engage young people in gospel study,” said Lether. “Will this self-directed learning environment deepen understanding and strengthen faith in the truths taught in the scriptures? We are hopeful that we can learn from this and figure out how the technology might be used to engage youth in the scriptures.”

Lefler said that in early prototype testing, children spent anywhere from 12 to 60 minutes and teens spent 10 to 12 minutes exploring the app and the gospel teachings associated with it. “Regardless of age and understanding, everyone — from a Sunbeam on up — discovered something new that enlarged their understanding of Lehi’s vision,” he said.

“The future of augmented reality and education is bright and exciting,” added Murdock, “and we are thrilled to see how the world responds to this all-new experience.”

Download the app

The logo for a new interactive mobile app that uses augmented reality to help youth and children learn about Lehi’s vision of the tree of life from the Book of Mormon.
The logo for a new interactive mobile app that uses augmented reality to help youth and children learn about Lehi’s vision of the tree of life from the Book of Mormon. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The app is now available for download in English, Spanish and Portuguese for Apple and Android devices from the iOS App Store or Android Play Store. You can also find descriptions and links on ChurchofJesusChrist.org/pages/mobileapps. Note that only newer versions of mobile devices have the capacity to fully process the experience.

To change the language or send feedback, click on the three dots in the right-hand corner of the app’s screen. “We really want to hear from those who use it,” said Lefler. “It’s only through the user’s experience can we understand how to improve.”

Watch a demo of the app at https://vimeo.com/383131751.