There are so many avenues in the world today in which you can get information. As long as one is objective and able to comprehend information, formal education does not have to be the only source for seeking and understanding information. Usually formal educational is based`around a specific set of standard information. Now with people having an ability to do independent research, they have an opportunity to seek information possibly not the focus of any formal educational program.
There are a lot of democratizing tools out there that help people learn and pursue knowledge on their own. And even universities are pursuing more flexible kinds of learning, such as institutes, centers, and other research-producing bodies that are not formal, traditional structures for education. That said, there will always be a place for conventional teacher-student dynamics as the core model for learning.
Higher education is focusing more of their time on having students understand research and work on their own independent research. As a recent graduate, I felt like I was spending more time understanding and dealing with research then I was with formal learning and classwork. Its a changing environment and research is coming to the forefront.
I think by "independent research" the question is referring to those people who are looking up information on their own...teaching themselves, so to speak. That has always gone on, but doesn't seem to be expanding. Formal education is, however, and more and more people are have access to formal education at the moment, and it is therefore expanding.