Purpose – The objective of this study is two-fold. First, it provides guidance to educators and trainers on establishing a cooperative learning environment. Second, it examines final-year undergraduate accounting students' opinions on the effectiveness of a cooperative learning environment in delivering generic skills for their future professional accountancy careers. In particular, the study examines relative perceptions of effectiveness between students of differing academic abilities. Design/methodology/approach – A questionnaire was administered to elicit students' views on whether they believed cooperative learning had enhanced their generic skills development. The data collected were analysed using descriptive statistics and Mann-Whitney U tests of differences. Findings – Students found the cooperative learning approach beneficial in developing their generic skills. Further, no significant differences were found between the perceptions of the less and more able students. Research limitations/implications – The study addresses perceptions of the benefits derived from cooperative learning rather than measuring benefits using an objective measure of achievement. Therefore, an interesting extension of this work would be to chart changes in personal development as a consequence of implementing cooperative learning over a number of years. Practical implications – The findings provide some level of assurance for educators in accounting and other vocational disciplines that students of different academic abilities believe they have enhanced their generic skills as a result of engaging in cooperative learning. Originality/value – This paper provides guidance to educators on establishing a cooperative learning environment and provides empirical evidence on its contribution to the enhancement of generic skills.